[Marxism] Ripped from the pages of Capital

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 15 09:38:16 MDT 2011


NY Times Editorial August 14, 2011
Cheap Robots vs. Cheap Labor

Workers in China’s export heartland of Guangdong make $200 a month 
assembling the consumer goods Americans hold so dear. In Jiangsu, 
they make $175. It seems that isn’t cheap enough.

Terry Gou, the founder and chairman of Foxconn, which employs one 
million workers in China making Apple iPads, H.P. computers and 
other electronic devices, announced at a company party in Shenzen 
last month that he would deploy a million robots at his plants by 
2013 to do much of the labor currently performed by human hands.

It’s not only Foxconn complaining about expensive labor. Many 
companies have moved away from export hubs in coastal areas to 
regions like Chongqing, where workers are paid $135 a month. 
Others are going farther. Yue Yuen, the world’s biggest shoe 
maker, is setting up shop in Cambodia and Bangladesh.

Foxconn said it wants employees to move “higher up the value 
chain.” Certainly, moving up the technology ladder drives economic 
development. The tractor and other farming inventions pushed 
millions of Americans off the farms. Computers displaced clerical 
workers. These breakthroughs created better-paid jobs for educated 
workers. But it’s unsettling to see cutting-edge labor-saving 
technologies deployed in a country where jobs must be found for 
some 300 million Chinese who live off the land.

Wages are rising, with salaries of many factory workers in China 
going up 20 percent to 30 percent annually. But that’s mainly 
because the new manufacturing jobs are far from where the 
underemployed farmers live. And the Chinese government doesn’t 
make it easy for workers to move from where they live to where 
they are wanted.

Even with this kind of wage pressure, pay is still very low. A 
Department of Labor study estimated that manufacturing workers in 
China earned $1.36 an hour in 2008 — about 4 percent of what an 
American worker made and less than wages in Mexico, Brazil, the 
Philippines and even India.

It’s hard to believe that hundreds of millions of Chinese can move 
quickly up the economy’s “value chain” to become tomorrow’s nurses 
and engineers. In the meantime, as robots take over more work, the 
millions trapped in the countryside will have even fewer 
opportunities.




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